Katari group photo at the cemetery, Manzanar National Historic Site, Nov. 3, 2019. (Photo by Gann Matsuda and Vicky Perez/Manzanar Committee)

On Oct. 18, the Manzanar Committee announced that their annual Katari: Keeping Japanese American Stories Alive program for college students, a partnership with the National Park Service staff at Manzanar National Historic Site, will return to a live, in-perso

n program in November, conditions permitting, after being forced to switch to an online version of the program the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Katari, which means “to tell stories” in Japanese, is a two-day, intensive, experiential, place-based learning experience about the unjust incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II, held at the Manzanar National Historic Site.

Katari seeks to bridge the generation gap that has made it much more difficult for young Japanese Americans to teach others about this history. Due to the shifting dynamics and demographics within the Japanese American community, including a growing recent immigrant population from Japan, and the younger generations, a large group of Japanese Americans are either two or three generations removed from the experiences of those who were forced to endure America’s concentration camps, or they have no connection to this history at all. As such, an increasing and alarming number of young people lack the knowledge and experience to be able to keep the stories of Japanese American incarcerees alive.

“Although we were able to pull off very effective Katari programs via Zoom videoconferencing the last two years, our students missed out on being at Manzanar, one of the sites where that history took place,” said Gann Matsuda of the Manzanar Committee. “When you combine the history, first-hand stories from former incarcerees, oral histories, and other educational material, with being at Manzanar — the educational impact on our students has been tremendous. We are looking forward to providing the full Katari experience to this year’s students.

“We are also very pleased that, as they have for five years now, students from the Nikkei Student Unions at six Southern California colleges will be participating.”

Student participants will come from California Polytechnic University, Pomona, CSU Fullerton, CSU Long Beach, UCLA, UC Riverside, and UC San Diego.

“Being able to hear the stories of those incarcerated immediately resonated with me,” said Kaylee Takata, a member of the Cal Poly Pomona Nikkei Student Union. ”The mental challenges they had to go through, and the living situations they had to endure, are things that America is too ashamed to recognize openly.”

“[The 2021-22] Katari program reinvigorated me to try harder to inform others about the Japanese American incarceration camps and their historical significance,” said Hale Chiba of the UC Riverside Nikkei Student Union. “At the end of the program especially, the discussion we had about the connection between the struggles of Japanese Americans and Black Americans made me realize the responsibility that we carry.”

The 2022-23 Katari program is funded, in part, by the George and Sakaye Aratani CARE Grant from the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. For more information, go to https://manzanarcommittee.org/katari, email katari@manzanarcommittee.org, or call (323) 662-5102.

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